By 2009, according to New Yorker magazine, Little House in the Big Woods, the first in the series of seven books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, had sold over 60 million copies in 33 languages. In the ensuing five years, the books’ popularity continues unabated.
Again, according to New Yorker, there are seven historical sites and museums, in seven different states, dedicated to the legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder and the autobiographical stories she wrote.
Many of us remember the TV series that began in 1974 and ran until 1982. It was said to have been Ronald Reagan’s favorite program.
Wilder’s stories are based on actual events and people in her family’s history in the 1870s and 1880s. What has made them so enduringly popular? Perhaps it is because they espouse universal themes: the value of family unity; individual struggle and hard work for the sake of loved ones; courage and faith in the face of adversity; the sense that some things are simply right and others simply wrong.
There was one brief period of her childhood about which Ms. Wilder chose not to write. After the death in infancy of her baby brother, Freddy, the family spent some time working and living in a small hotel/tavern in Burr Oak, Iowa (one of the existing historical sites mentioned above). That is the period in which playwright Laurie Brooks sets A Laura Ingalls Wilder Christmas, imagining what might have been some of the experiences for the family there. She is able to reveal the characters we already recognize from the books, even lifting some lines of dialogue directly from them, and weave a touching story that we can easily believe might have happened to the Ingalls family during that challenging time in Burr Oak.
The WordPlayers, in grateful collaboration with The Arts at Pellissippi State, is joyful to offer this story to the Knoxville community, hoping that all of us may live in such as way as to “Always be mindful of others.” As Pa says, “You rest easy for the long haul when you’re mindful of what’s right.” Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
– Terry Weber